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Why Toyota Built A Manual Just For The Corolla Hatch

The brand-new IMT was made exclusively for the little Corolla.

Millennials have reached car-buying age. With more spending power than any other generation before them—the group is expected to spend some $200 billion in the U.S. this year—attracting the next generation of car buyers has seen automakers take decisive steps to get first-time car buyers into showrooms. Toyota arrived at the New York Auto Show with guns ablazing, dominating the floor with a slew of models and a hot blue hatch taking pride and place on its own purpose-built stand.

The 2019 RAV4 was unveiled in three distinct flavors; the range expanded to enhance its appeal to keep the SUV’s impressive sales numbers on an upward trajectory. But that car won’t interest the Gen Z and Gen Y crowd. That’s where the all-new 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback steps in, which also took a bow at the Javits Center riding on a new platform, wearing fresh styling, and boasting a new engine and brand-new manual transmission. Speaking at a roundtable during the show, Lisa Materazzo, VP Vehicle Marketing and Communications, enthused about the little Corolla: “We’re very excited about the hatch, as it gives us an opportunity to lean in more to that important, young, millennial buyer, multicultural segment.”

Unveiled wearing a tasty new hue dubbed Blue Flame, the hatch oozes youth appeal. “The target audience [of the hatch] is 20-30 year olds, young singles and couples,” reiterated Yoshiki Konishi, Chief Engineer of Corolla Hatchback. Image conscious millennials will dig the low, planted stance of the hatch. Compared to its Scion-badged predecessor, it sports a longer wheelbase for more cabin space along with wider front and rear tracks. Resin for the rear door enabled designers to create an aggressive, sporty rear end complete with accessory spoiler, and reduced weight by a couple of kilos for theoretically improved fuel efficiency.

The TNGA platform sees the hatch’s center of gravity drop by 20 mm, suspension friction improve by 40%, and overall torsional rigidity improve by 60%. That, coupled with a revised sport-tuned suspension, will make the hatch more fun to drive. The new 2.0-liter direct-injection inline four-cylinder engine—smaller and lighter than the previous 1.8-liter four-cylinder unit—arrived in the show car mated to a CVT, but the car will also be available with a six-speed manual. It's brand new gearbox, dubbed the Intelligent Manual Transmission (IMT), was built specifically for the hatch, explained Bill Fay, Senior Vice President, Automotive Operations.

“There’s not a lot of demand in the U.S. for a manual transmission vehicle. If there’s not a lot of customer demand then we’re just creating complexity by making it available. We’ve got to design it in, then we’ve got to figure out where that small amount of demand is going to be in a country like the U.S. It makes the distribution of it quite challenging.” So don’t expect to see the manual appear on any other Toyota products. The Corolla Hatch will give the best-selling car of all time a new image, a fresh personality. As Bill Fay puts it, “It’s not going to be big volume in the U.S., but I think—especially with the redesign—it can add a lot to the Corolla's presence in the U.S.”

Yoshiki Konishi told me the new manual “uses a system where the engine and shift speeds are synchronized, providing a more smooth, fun-to-drive feeling.” While that might not appeal to hardcore enthusiasts, it will be a perfect tool for manual virgins learning the art of rowing their own gears. The manual was said to be dead, but Toyota is keeping it alive and should be applauded for doing so. The hatch has all the ingredients to give the Corolla an injection of playful youth. Check out the drift car displayed alongside it for an idea of what an extreme hot-hatch iteration could look like, and don’t be surprised when a bunch of these turn up at SEMA later in the year.

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